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(Enlarge) People want job skills training and access to jobs, Alfred Wainwright told Loyola University officials last month as part of a new program, Loyola is Listening. Wainwright is a longtime resident of Wilson Park, which he said friends of his family developed. (Photo by Brendan Cavanaugh)

Alfred Wainwright has lived in Wilson Park, near Govans, since 1973, "before the drug scourge came," he said.

And Wainwright, a 51-year-old special education administrator for the city's public schools, has a close personal connection to the developers of Wilson Park, which was developed in the early 1900s as Baltimore's first black suburb.

Original developer Harry O'Neill Wilson's sons, Owen and Harry Jr. were good friends of Wainwright's family when Wainwright was growing up in the tree-lined residential community off York Road, between Woodbourne-McCabe and Pen Lucy.

Wainwright, who is now president of the Wilson Park Community Association, said he is "deeply" invested in his community and wants to see it change for the better.

That's why Wainwright attended one in a recent series of Loyola Is Listening public forums at the American Friends Service Committee building on York Road.

Loyola University Maryland sponsored the forums to hear what Govans-area residents like and dislike about their communities, what they would like to see improved and how they think Loyola can help.

The goal is to lend a helping hand to the area that borders Loyola, as called for in the university's master plan, said Terry Sawyer, vice president for administration.

"We want to get know Govans in a deeper and more meaningful way," Sawyer said at the second of the three meetings, March 10.

And the university needs to know what is on residents' minds in order to answer the question, "As a Jesuit institution, what is our responsibility here?" Sawyer said.

The forum was part survey and part oral history as participating residents came in to talk about their communities, their needs and hopes for the future. They sat down with Loyola officials, two to an interview, who asked questions, listened carefully and took notes.

Loyola spokeswoman Courtney Jolley said the university wants to know, "How long have (residents) been here? Do they feel connected to the community? How can their lives be better? (Do they have) access to health care? What services can Loyola offer like financial literacy?"

"Loyola can make a positive contribution to the community," Jolley said, but added, "We don't want to assume that we automatically know what Govans wants or needs."

Sawyer said certain trends emerged from the forums -- the biggest being that a lot of people said, "Thank you for asking."

The issues most on people's minds appear to be the need to improve education and public safety, and to increase activities for young people, Sawyer said.

Now that the forums are over, Loyola officials will analyze their findings and issue a report to forum participants by late spring, he said.Some of the participants were community leaders or officials of area organizations.

"We're going to be a part of Govans' future," said Mitchell Posner, executive director of the Govans Ecumenical Development Corp., a nonprofit builder of affordable senior housing in the area, including at Stadium Place. He called GEDCO "a major shareholder" in the community's well-being.

"We love the neighborhood," said Loyola writer-in-residence Lia Purpura, a poet who lives in nearby Radnor-Winston. "They (Loyola) have a lot of weight to throw around and the neighborhood can really benefit from them taking on their full responsibility."

"Obviously, if we can have some influence on Loyola, we should try to," said Radnor-Winston Improvement Association President Nick Sheridan. He said York Road is a big concern, commercially zoned but not in high demand and lagging in the quality of its businesses.

Loyola's involvement could be as simple as helping to get a coffee shop on York Road.

"People in my neighborhood would absolutely love a coffee place," he said.

Or Loyola's involvement could be as complex as helping to uplift Wilson Park, which has been hurt by the drug trade, said Wainwright. He let the Messenger listen in as he sat down for an expansive interview with Loyola's Martha Wharton, vice president for academic affairs and diversity; and Tracey Frey, program assistant for planning and accreditation.

He said to revitalize Wilson Park and York Road, Loyola and any other benefactors must "put hope in the hearts of the people."

Drug abusers need "a way of being rescued and have turned to drugs because 'you feel worthless, you feel bad,' " he said.

He said a lot of youths in Wilson Park aren't thinking about going to college. They are thinking about "getting a driver's license and getting out," he said.

It's a far cry from the peaceful, happy neighborhood with lots of trees and houses with big porches that he remembers from his own youth.

"It was a nice community," he said.

What people need now are job skills and help in getting a job, so they can be more productive citizens.

"A lot of these people really want that," he said.

Wainwright would like to see Loyola start a program to help them.

"I'd even be willing to volunteer," he said.

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